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The Question

I have worked on the switchboard at a large hotel for the past year. One of the other two staff in the office, 'Bob,' is loud and obnoxious. Recently, I was having trouble hearing callers because Bob was on a rant. I calmly asked, 'Can you please keep your voice down, I am having trouble hearing the callers.' Bob went on a tirade then he stormed into my manager's office and told him if something's not done about me, he was going to 'lose it' and 'you don't want to see that.' I felt threatened. My manager was appalled and reported him to HR. I also sent an e-mail to HR.

A week later, the HR manager and Bob were waiting for me in the office. Bob apologized for our 'discussion' and said I should not fear for my safety. The HR manager barely spoke. I said I just want quieter conversation. Bob has since quieted down.

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I am stunned that the HR manager never met with me – but spoke with my manager and Bob. They've worked together for years and I am the low woman on the totem pole. His lack of interaction made me feel terrible, like I wasn't worth the time. Should the HR manager have met with me first? What should I do now?

The First Answer

Bill Howatt

Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

The behaviour of the HR manager involved is not consistent with HR best practices. Your situation was speed-dialled into one-way mediation. That's not appropriate. Typically, HR gets the facts from all parties. HR's role with a victim of bullying is to ensure the victim understands their rights, then protects them.

Your first step is to know your rights. You have done nothing wrong. Review your organization's respectful workplace policy -- often called harassment policy on bullying -- as well as how complaints are to be dealt with.

Second step: collect your thoughts. Record the facts of the events before, during and after the HR meeting, and how you are now feeling. Then determine what supports you have (such as your union, manager, employee assistance plan, or colleague) whom you can lean on confidentially.

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Third step: take action. Ask your manager to discuss your concerns with you and the HR manager. The objective of this meeting will be to make the HR manager aware of how negative this experience was and how you are now feeling. It is appropriate to ask them how they will protect your psychological safety in the workplace. The only acceptable outcome is the HR manager acknowledging your concerns and making it clear how these issues will be dealt with. If you are not convinced the HR manager is going to do their job, you and your manager can escalate this issue to the hotel's senior management.

The Second Answer

Greg Conner

Executive director of human resources, BC Transit

So many things have been done wrong, it's hard to know where to begin. It appears to be a classic case of bullying, in the form of intimidation. Your instincts are correct, the HR manager should have discussed your e-mail and the incident with you, and how you were feeling. Also, you should have been informed that Bob was with the HR manager, before you got to the meeting. The other glaring issue is that your manager should have also been in attendance to support you. This "old boys" approach, which I see as an attempt to minimize the incident, if not an outright attempt to intimidate you into accepting Bob's apology, is shocking.

It is your call what to do next, but it's your right to escalate this if you wish, even if Bob has quieted down. Put the facts down dispassionately and send it to the HR manager's supervisor with a copy to your manager. In Canada, all workplaces must have policies and procedures to protect individuals from bullying and harassment. Ask the company to follow proper policy and investigation procedures in the future. If the HR manager presents himself as a professional member, consider sending a complaint to your provincial HR association about his conduct. It is that serious.

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Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Your confidentiality is ensured.

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